Biden takes on rising gun crime while White House, Congress also mull over police reform

EXCLUSIVE: The president visited New York City to meet with Mayor Eric Adams and Attorney General Letitia James to discuss crime prevention strategies. Meanwhile, lawmakers and Biden officials work to salvage the George Floyd policing bill.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House on a U.S. Special Operations raid targeting ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi February 3, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden traveled to New York City on Thursday where he vowed to keep “doing everything in my power to make sure that communities are safer” while meeting the moment to combat the national rise in deadly gun crime.  

During his afternoon trip, the president traveled to the Big Apple to meet with state and city leaders at the headquarters of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) to offer up strategies and call on Congress to fund his multi-million budget request to quell lethal gun violence. 

The Biden White House also announced on Thursday new measures to implement his comprehensive strategy to reduce gun crimes first launched last year June. The new actions include directing U.S. Attorney’s offices to increase resources and prioritize combating violent crime; cracking down on the illegal flow of guns purchased in the south and illegally sold up north; launching a National Ghost Gun Enforcement Initiative; and pursuing unlawful gun sellers.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams along with New York State Attorney General Letitia James were also with the president during his visit. The highly publicized gathering comes after two NYPD officers, who were partners on the beat, were gunned down in Harlem last week. 

President Biden in a tweet said, “Gun violence against law enforcement officers is sickening, and it must end.”

Just this week Mayor Adams, a former police officer himself, gave the eulogy for one of the fallen officers in that deadly Harlem attack.

Brooklyn Borough President and New York City mayoral candidate Eric Adams (C) speaks to the media alongside other local and law enforcement officials outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, DC, July 12, 2021, after attending a meeting with US President Joe Biden about reducing gun violence. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

In a recent exclusive interview with theGrio, Attorney General James said she would be joining the meeting with Biden and Adams. “I support the mayor, and I believe that a number of elected officials believe in the same thing and that is addressing gun violence in the city and in the state of New York,” she said. 

“The fact that we have seen an increase in individuals purchasing guns during this pandemic, this sense of insecurity is somehow motivating individuals to buy guns. And there is a nexus between guns that are purchased and ultimately stolen and gun violence,” New York state’s top law enforcement official told theGrio.

In the president’s plan, there is a component that targets illegal gun trafficking which the state of New York is working to combat. 

James qualified the problem for the Empire State saying, “New York State is a state along I-95, the iron pipeline, where individuals purchase guns from states with lax gun laws and then traffic them to New York state, and as a result, we are seeing increased gun violence not only in New York, but all across this nation. The over proliferation of guns.”

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 30: New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks at a canvassing event for City Council Member Justin Brannan on October 30, 2021 in New York City. James, whose office has led investigations of former President Trump and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, confirmed her plans to run for Governor in the state’s upcoming 2022 election.(Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)

New York is not alone in this fight. Baltimore City officials are also working on cracking down on illegal guns as they do not have a gun shop within their city limits and yet see an influx in deadly illegal gun activity. 

Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison told theGrio just before his meeting with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan on the rise in crime. He said he supports the president’s plan and would “be advocating for more community violence prevention and intervention programs, much like what we’re doing here in Baltimore.”

President Biden in New York City said, “Across the country, police departments report sharp increases in the number of ghost guns found at crime scenes. That’s why today the department is launching an intensified national ghost gun enforcement initiative to determine and deter criminals from using those weapons to cover their tracks. 

He added, “If you commit a crime with a ghost gun, not only are state and local prosecutors going to come after you but expect federal charges and federal prosecution as well.”

Baltimore is currently witnessing a new phenomena of a surge in the use of ghost guns. Harrison said, “I think right now there’s a transition in that the larger percentage of guns seized are ghost guns and not regularly purchased guns, which are usually stolen. And so we seize them in a number of ways.”

Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison. (Photo: Baltimore City Police Department)

Ghost guns do not have serial numbers which makes it harder to trace them. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh is working with lawmakers on crafting legislation to ban the use of ghost guns in the state.

Harrison also acknowledged much of the nation’s criminal activity is due to many of the courts being closed and on reduced schedules due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said these deadly conflicts are escalating due to a perceived lack of punishment from the court system during the pandemic. The commissioner, who once served in New Orleans in the same capacity, said foot patrols known as community policing worked there and that the same strategy is again being implemented in Baltimore. 

Another part of the president’s plan that would be implemented by the Department of Justice is for reducing violent crime with the time-tested practice of community policing with police officers out of patrol cars and walking the streets. The idea is that the officers will know the community and its residents. It is an effort meant to deescalate any tension that could arise. 

President Biden is calling on Congress to pass an appropriations bill that includes a half a billion dollars in new funding on community policing, community violence, intervention, job training, after-school programs and more. The president is calling for a bipartisan agreement on this crime reduction proposal in fiscal year 2022 appropriations. Biden is asking for a $300 million increase in accountable community policing for an officer training program and $200 million in evidenced-based community violence intervention. 

This all comes at a time when the White House is also trying to work toward police reform with new executive orders. Meanwhile, on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, there are members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) currently discussing the possibility of stand alone laws that address components of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that did not garner Republican support.

Reverend Al Sharpton exclusively gave theGrio the breaking news that the White House is consulting with him and other leaders on this matter.

Al Sharpton
Cilvil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at a press conference on voting rights outside of the U.S. Capitol on September 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

“We’re talking now about the executive order. In fact…they are consulting us on ways to deal with it. But I’m still saying we want the executive order and then we want to break down the George Floyd bill like they do in BBB and vote on it in parts. We’re not going to let that go,” said Sharpton.

Sharpton recognizes the stark difference between an executive order versus a law. “Laws last because they are laws. Executive orders don’t have teeth. But executive orders are there as long as that president is there,” stated the veteran civil rights leader. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded to theGrio’s question about the executive order on police reform and possible new congressional action on stand alone laws. She said, “Certainly, we agree a law is more permanent than executive orders. That is absolutely true, but we have not even finalized, nor do I have a preview of exactly when it would be…a police reform executive order. So I would also encourage people to wait to assess what that looks like.”

A high-profile Black former federal prosecutor who wished not to be identified said, “[Congress]  should separate qualified immunity, require local and state police agencies to use existing federal funds to ensure body and dash cams, limit how much military-grade equipment is awarded to state and local law enforcement (Obama era), and enhance DOJ pattern and practice investigations by granting DOJ subpoena power.”

President Barack Obama addresses the International Chiefs of Police (IACP) annual conference at McCormick Place on October 27, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Most of this list of reform items was enacted during the Obama administration years with the then White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing but was dismantled by the following administration of Donald Trump who did not support police accountability measures. 

Baltimore Police Commissioner Harrison said, “You can marry the two,” referring to the fight against crime and officer accountability through police reform.

“They’re not mutually exclusive. What we have to do is we’re changing the culture. We’re changing the way we think about policing, we’re changing culture which is a mindset that’s the hardest of all things to do. We have better hiring practices, we have better policy making, we have better training, better protocols and better and stronger businesses. When you put all that together, we’re hoping for better performance from the officers in how we engage and deal with the people we’re sworn to serve and protect,” said Harrison, who believes there is a deeper connection that must happen to change the current dynamics of crime and policing.

“It’s not just enforcement. It’s about relationship building, and we have to make sure that we are including the public in what they think they need from their police department. And it’s not just us deciding what we should give them. And so it’s a collaborative effort in how we reform our department and the communities at the table, giving this input every step.”

A Baltimore City police emblem on a shirt during a baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 25, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

U.S. Congressman Andre Carson, who along with Democrats in the U.S. House, passed the now Senate-stalled Floyd bill, said he believes it is possible for elected leaders to tackle both crime and police reform.

“Currently, we are facing two concurrent epidemics–a scourge of violent crime and gun violence that is taking American lives every day, as well as ongoing police brutality and misconduct. Many say we can’t tackle both crises at the same time, but I disagree,” Carson told theGrio.

“As a former police officer, I know we can make our communities safer while also improving the relationships between law enforcement agencies and the people they serve. In fact, these two priorities go hand in hand.

He added, “I am confident that leaders like Mayor Adams, himself a former officer, can help achieve both of these goals, and I commend President Biden for working with him and other stakeholders to make our country safer for all.”

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